It’s only one week until Bioshock, one of the biggest Xbox games in history, hits the stores. To celebrate we’ve got a exclusive to XCN Bioshock Q&A with the game’s Lead Designer, Paul Hellquist, for you. So grab a fresh pair of undies and contain your excitement as you read on!
Could you give us some background on how long Bioshock has been in the works and how much the original idea has evolved over time?
Paul Hellquist: We did a prototype way back in 2002. At the time, the game didn’t get picked up by a publisher so we put it on the back burner and did SWAT 4. We started up in earnest again after SWAT in late 2004. The game changed dramatically from that first prototype. At that time Rapture was a long forgotten WWII base where the Germans had done secret biological experiments on people. All of the enemies were part human part undersea creature, the most notorious around the office being “Eel-Man”.
Do you see Bioshock as the spiritual successor to System Shock, and if so what have you been able to add to the System Shock formula?
Paul Hellquist: The main things we added to the formula were accessibility and a greater focus on action than on niggly interface interactions. BioShock still is a horror game with a fully realized world to explore, it still is incredibly deep, with a ton of gameplay systems for players to interact with, and has a great story. All of these things make it a spiritual successor to System Shock 2 in my mind.
Take you take any inspiration from other games before or during Bioshock’s development?
Paul Hellquist: We always look at a lot of other games while working on a project. Mostly we look a people who have solved the same kinds of problems that we were facing while making this game. Some that I recall looking at in particular include Condemned: Criminal Origins, Half-Life 2, and others.
The moral choices that Bioshock offers (ie harvest or rescue Little Sister) have caused a lot of discussion. Have you had to pull back on your initial plans to lessen the controversy surrounding this?
Paul Hellquist: We are the first game that really makes this type of decision a key part of the game and we think that having it in the game is a big step forward for the industry. Hopefully more tough moral choices can be explored by future titles throughout the industry. Ultimately, we want BioShock to be remembered for the excellent art direction, story and the systemic, emergent experiences and not for a controversy. What you see in the game reflects that goal.
It’s still a pretty visceral and violent-looking game. Are you positioning Bioshock as a distinctly adult gaming experience, and what do you see in the future for adult games of this type?
Paul Hellquist: We strongly believe that BioShock is a game for adults, that is why it is rated M in the US and received similar age ratings worldwide. We wanted to explore themes and choices for a mature audience including exploiting the innocent for personal gain, the dangers of playing God, and how extremism of any belief system can lead to evil.
I think as the medium matures and gains more recognition in the public as a viable outlet for communicating ideas that games that explore more mature themes will gain in popularity. This trend is also natural as the average age of gamers continues to climb as the “children of the 80’s” who grew up with games reach their 30s now.
How would you describe the genre of Bioshock? Is it an FPS? An RPG? Or something totally new?
Paul Hellquist: We believe BioShock is the deepest FPS ever made. It is an FPS through and through, but offers more choices for the gamer to interact with the world and their enemies than any other FPS before it.
How open is the game world, and what kind of rewards will players get for exploring areas or digging into the backstory of Rapture?
Paul Hellquist: The game world is separated into large subsections that you progress through as you finish the goals of each area. While completing those goals players can explore that area however they choose and can even return to every other area they have been to in the past. Some of the rewards you find for exploration include Gene Tonics which give the players new abilities, rare ammo types and weapon upgrade machines, as well as more diaries that uncover the mysteries of what happened to Rapture.
How does the Plasmid levelling system work, and is it possible for players to create the ultimate, unstoppable character?
Paul Hellquist: The character growth system in BioShock requires a resource called ADAM, which the scientists of Rapture developed to manipulate genes at will. The player needs to get ADAM from the Little Sisters and to do that they need to tangle with the Big Daddies. Once you have ADAM you can spend it on a variety of power-ups at the Gatherer’s Garden machine. Here you can buy upgrades to your Health Bar or your EVE bar, which powers plasmids. You can also buy additional “slots” in the various categories of plasmids and gene tonics so that you are able to use more and more abilities at one time.
You are able to create some potent and effective characters in BioShock, but you can never get enough ADAM to max out everything so you need to make careful choices about what you value the most.
How do the Big Daddies and Little Sisters intermingle with the other denizens of Rapture?
Paul Hellquist: Big Daddies and Little Sisters roam Rapture doing what they were genetically engineered to do, harvest ADAM. The Little Sister seeks out corpses and consumes their fluids to convert it to ADAM in their digestive system. The Big Daddies follow them around and protect them from the crazed citizens of Rapture who would love to get the ADAM but are generally afraid to confront the Big Daddy. The splicers attempt to back away from an upset Big Daddy, who assumes any close proximity to the Little Sister is a threat. Sometimes the splicer gets cornered and will attack the Big Daddy as a last ditch attempt to escape. This case usually ends badly for the splicer.
We hear there are multiple endings in Bioshock – how do the player’s actions affect the trajectory of the game?
Paul Hellquist: It’s all about choice. Will you exploit the innocent to survive, or will you sacrifice your own safety to be their saviour. These types of choice will influence the ending of the game and several key game systems as well!
Bioshock has a very distinct aesthetic style. What were your influences and how do you think gamers will react to the world of Rapture?
Paul Hellquist: Our main influence was the time period we wanted the game to take place in and what we felt our antagonist and creator of Rapture Andrew Ryan would think was the pinnacle of style. You can never predict what the public is going to like or dislike, so we generally don’t try to. We hope that people will find the visual style to be a breath of fresh air in the washed out grey aesthetic that we are seeing in so many shooters these days. Ultimately, only time will tell what people think of it.
Do you have plans for any Bioshock DLC or spin-offs? We’ve heard rumours that some Gene Tonics and Plasmids are locked out at the moment…
Paul Hellquist: I can’t talk about Downloadable content at this time, but everyone at Irrational loves that downloadable content has become a feature that is not only for PC gamers.
Bioshock has received numerous awards and accolades even before it is released – do you feel there is a great deal of pressure for the game to live up to pre-release expectations?
Paul Hellquist: Winning numerous Best of Shows at the last two E3s rocked. And now, we’re focused on living up to high expectations than to ship a game that no one has ever heard of and doesn’t care about.
Can you tell us about the Achievements in Bioshock and how you decided on what they would be?
Paul Hellquist: We had so many ideas for Achievements in BioShock that we were sad that we were only allowed to have 50. When push came to shove, we decided to focus our Achievements on rewarding players for exploring all of the interesting game systems that are not in most other FPS games, but there are a few surprises in the list as well. I can also tell you that you cannot collect all of the achievements on a single play-through.
Is there a future for the Bioshock series? Or do you want to move onto new projects?
Paul Hellquist: Man, we’re just trying to finish the first one!
Thanks for your time Paul!